Yahoo! Original: ‘Argo’ writer Chris Terrio talks Ben Affleck, blue Wookies and ‘Breaking Bad’
'Argo' Screenwriter Chris Terrio (Photo: Paul A. Hebert/Getty Images)
No apology is necessary since there's not a single "s" in Ben Affleck or the movie's title -- and the writer's startlingly articulate for someone jet-lagged and on painkillers. Although he directed the indie drama "Heights," Terrio's sudden renown riding shotgun with Affleck is about as believable as Hollywood collaborating with CIA Agent Tony Mendez (Affleck) to rescue six cornered Americans in Tehran during the Iranian Hostage Crisis of 1979-80. Oh, wait, that's the story of "Argo!"
Thelma Adams: Were there details from the true story you wanted to include but had to shave?
Chris Terrio: There were. For example, there were more details about the role of the Canadian government. They held a special session of parliament in Ottawa to approve the false passports, but we ran out of time. There was also a subplot about how the Canadian press, the "New York Times" and the "New York Post" got hold of the story but did a good thing by withholding the info about the six.
TA: And the Hollywood side of the tale?
CT: In real life, John Chambers, the character played by John Goodman, and the "Argo" production office that included Alan Arkin's character heard movie pitches from writers. I wrote a scene with young writers pitching to Arkin and Goodman who were trying to keep up the façade. That was where we had to have talks about the tone, because it was like "The Player" and they'd be fun to shoot and maybe funny. But the humor had to be rooted in the characters and the story. There was a line when Arkin says, "I'll tell you one thing: you ain't getting Kate Hepburn to play no mute." But you couldn't have a scene of movie pitches just to have a few acerbic producer lines.
TA: Were you sad that the pretend movie in "Argo" was never realized on screen?
CT: I had to make up what the film-within-the-film "Argo" was because we didn't own the rights to that script, which was originally called "Lord of Light." We wanted a slightly cheesy "Star Wars" rip-off but not in the land of total absurdity. It had that visually freakish scene with the blue Wookie, but the words had to almost sound like J. R. R. Tolkien. It had to have a mythic tone, so that the Hollywood media spectacle, and the words of the sci-fi script, had to carry over to a hairpin turn to something really grave. Yes, they were reciting a bad script, but bad in a very particular way to have it cut together to make sense. The action cuts from the production media event to an array of cameras in Tehran with Tehran Mary, the propagandist of the hostage crisis, saying the CIA are the biggest villains in the world. It was a recreation of an actual press conference in Tehran. Then you cut to the hostages in the basement of the embassy. So, you go from the "Argo" reading to the media spectacle of the Tehran press conference, then inside the Canadian Ambassador's house, and back to the CIA. Ben and I knew that that sequence was make or break. The tone was everything: from the blue Wookie to the Iranian propagandist to the CIA to the streets of Tehran.